Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "The early history of Nauvoo : together with a sketch of the people who built this beautiful city and whose leaders suffered persecution and martyrdom for their religion's sake"

See other formats





EDWARDSVILLE, IL 62026-10^3 



The Early History 
of Nauvoo 

Together with a Sketch of the People 

Who Built This Beautiful City and 

Whose Leaders SuflFered Persecution 

and Martyrdom for Their 

Religion's Sake 

S. A. BURGESS, Historian 

General Church Headquarters 

Independence, Missouri 

U. S. A. 



Elijah P. Lovejoy Memorial Library 


Southern Illinois University 
at Edwardsville 

The Church of Jesus Christ of 
Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo 

A Brief Historical Sketch 

The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat- 
ter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, was born at Sharon, 
Vermont, the 23d of December, 1805. Ten years 
later the family moved to Manchester, near Pal- 
myra, New York, 

During a revival in the early spring of 1820, held 
by several different denominations, Joseph Smith 
went into the woods to pray, under the advice of 
James 1: 15: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him 
ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and up- 
braideth not; and it shall be given him." As a re- 
sult, this boy of fourteen years received a vision of 
his Savior and was informed that his heavenly Fa- 
ther was about to do a great and marvelous work. 

A Vision 

Then, the night of September 21, 1823, while en- 
gaged in prayer, an angel appeared to him and 
quoted Malachi 3 and 4, Isaiah 11, Acts 3 : 22 and 23, 
Joel 2 : 22-32, and many other passages, and in- 
formed him of the plates of the Book of Mormon 
with a record of the people of this continent. On the 
following day he was shown the plates. Each year 
thereafter, on the same date, he visited the place 


where the plates were deposited, until September 2k!, 
1827, when he received the plates together with the 
Breast Plate and Urim and Thummim. 

Book of Mormon 

His wife, Martin Harris, John Whitmer, and 
Oliver Cowdery assisted by transcribing as he trans- 
lated the Book of Mormon by the power of inspira- 
tion and the use of the Urim and Thummim. On 
the 11th of June, 1829, the copyright was taken out 
and in August the book placed in the hands of the 
printer. Eleven other witnesses were permitted to 
see and handle the plates, and then the plates were 
taken back by the angel. These men always af- 
firmed and reaffirmed their testimony of the authen- 
ticity of these plates and of the Book of Mormon. 

At Kirtland, Ohio 

The first normal organization of the church was 
made on the 6th of April, 1830, at Fayette, New 
York, at which time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cow- 
dery were ordained as elders. Six took part in the 

This remained, however, the headquarters of the 
church for a very short time. The first missionaries 
were sent to the west in October, 1830, and visited 
Kirtland en route, where eventually many were bap- 
tized. These missionaries then continued on to the 
western boundary of Missouri, which they reached 
in March, 1831. In January, 1831, President Jos- 
eph Smith removed to Kirtland, and this place be- 
came the headquarters of the church and so con- 
tinued for several years. 




Prophet cind leader of the Churxh of Jesiis Christ of 
Latter Day Saints from its organization in 1830 to his 
martyrdorii in 18 If Ji.'. 

Lf^i:ii'.5 n::- 

Kirtland Temple 

The Kirtland Temple, the only temple completed 
in this age by direct command of God, was there 
erected, the corner stone being laid July 23, 1833. 
The work was pushed, the temple being completed 
and dedicated on March 27, 1836. During this pe- 
riod the High Priests and First Presidency were 
called, the Presiding Bishopric, Quorum of Twelve, 
and Quorum of Seventy organized, and the High 
Council called, chosen, and ordained. 

At Independence, Missouri 

After the first missionaries reached Independence, 
Jackson County, Missouri, in March, 1831, many 
others followed, including Joseph Smith on a visit 
in July, 1831. Kirtland was made a gathering place, 
though Zion, or Independence, was made the central 
place. The Temple Lot in Independence was dedi- 
cated, a printing press secured, and the Book of Com- 
mandments and Evening and Morning Star pub- 

But Missouri, and especially western Missouri, 
was settled from Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and 
North and South Carolina. The people were decid- 
edly favorable to slave ownership. Furthermore, 
Missouri had been kept out of the Union for several 
years on this question of slavery, and feeling had 
run high until the Missouri Compromise had per- 
mitted its admission. Ten years later the Latter 
Day Saints, many of whom were from New Eng 
land, came and settled, bought land, built homes, and 
erected churches. 


This difference on the slavery question doubtless 
had much to do with their trouble and finally their 
expulsion from the County of Jackson, and from 
Missouri, although their religion and belief in reve- 
lation was a contributing factor. 

July 20, 1833, the printing office was destroyed. 
Leaving Jackson County, settlement was made in 
Clay County. But on June 29, 1836, protest was 
made for fear they would settle there permanently, 
so in August, 1836, they moved to the northeast and 
settled in part of Ray County. Here they purchased 
most of the best land, which was divided off and 
made into Caldwell County. This county was 
formed and set aside as a sort of reservation for the 
Saints, but they were not allowed to live there. 

Settlement was later made in Daviess County in 
1837. These settlements were always made by writ- 
ten agreement, so as to avoid difficulties so far as 
possible. But despite this agreement, mobs formed, 
and they were compelled to leave the State in 1838. 

The two great reasons for their expulsion have 
already been stated: The difference in social cul- 
ture between the New Englanders who favored abo- 
lition, and the slave-owning settlers; also the ques- 
tion of religion. Many of these left in the winter 
of 1838 and 1839, and by the latter year practically 
the whole body had moved into Illinois near Quincy. 

At Nauvoo 

On May 1, 1839, the church purchased the Hugh 
White farm outside of Commerce, for $5,000. This 
farm consisted of one hundred thirty-five acres. 


They also purchased Doctor Isaac Galland's farm 
west of the White property. 

On May 9 Joseph Smith left Quincy with his fam- 
ily and arrived at Commerce, Illinois, on the 10th, 
where he moved into the small log house on the 
White farm on the bank of the Mississippi River. 
This log house was built in 1823 or 1824 by Captain 
White, and had been occupied by the government 
agent, for Indians were quite numerous at that time 
throughout Illinois, and there were some four hun- 
dred or five hundred lodges of Sac and Fox Indians 
in the vicinity, according to the History of Hancock 
County. Across the river, Iowa was practically un- 
organized territory. It had been recently a part of 
the Territory of Wisconsin, but in 1840 it was the 
Territory of Iowa, including the present States of 
Iowa, Minnesota, and part of both North and South 
Dakota. This log house of Captain White's was the 
first Indian agency established in Illinois. 

Building a City 
On June 11 Theodore Turney built a house of logs, 
in block 147 of the White purchase. Within a year 
one hundred and fifty houses had been erected by the 
Saints. On April 21, 1840, the name of the post 
office was changed to Nauvoo (a Hebrew term signi- 
fying a beautiful place). By the first of January, 
1841, there was a population of 3,000. By 1844 the 
number of inhabitants has been variously estimated. 
Accuracy is not possible, as the settlement was made 
between the decennial census of 1840 and that of 
1850. Usually the number is stated as 25,000, but 
some old settlers have urged that it was double that. 


With a church membership of 200,000 to 250,000 
and this the principal place and the headquarters 
of the church, either figure would not be surprising. 


Built at great expense and sacrifice. 
An imyosing memorial to the faith of 
the Saints. 

Many substantial dwellings of brick and frame and 
many of rock were erected. 

Nauvoo Charter 
The state legislature, December 16, 1840, granted 
a very liberal charter. The charter made provision 
for the Nauvoo Legion and the University of Nau- 


voo. Immediately steps were taken to establish the 
University of Nauvoo, and by February 15, 1841, 
James Kelley, A. M., had been elected as president. 
A building- committee was chosen, the work of educa- 
tion pushed energetically, and a faculty chosen. By 
fall several new members had been added to the 
faculty, including Orson Pratt, Orson Spencer, and 
Sidney Rigdon. All matters of education in the city 
were transferred to the regents of the University of 

On February 4, 1841, the Nauvoo Legion was or- 
ganized with Joseph Smith as Lieutenant General; 
J. C. Bennett, Major General; and Wilson Law and 
D. C. Smith, Brigadier Generals. Such local organi- 
zations were common at that time. Nauvoo was on 
the frontier. Indians resided within the limits of 
Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. 

The Nauvoo Temple 

General Conferences and public meetings were 
held in the grove in Nauvoo these first few years, 
but the necessity of a meeting place was seen, and 
as early as 1841 the erection of a temple was under- 
taken. Stone was secured from a quarry on the 
north side of the city in a river bed. The building 
was completed far enough to be used in the summer 
of 1844, though the upper auditorium was not plas- 
tered, and the lower auditorium only temporarily ar- 
ranged for meetings, and only a temporary baptis- 
mal font had been placed in the basement. 

After the death of Joseph Smith some further 
work was done on the temple, but it was never com- 



This once beautiful temple finally was burned and for a 
time stood in this manner, a monument to the wrath of 
persecuting mobs. 

pleted. The temple was described by Charles Lan- 
man in 1846 as Roman in style, intermixed with 
Grecian and Egyptian. This building- was destroyed 
by fire in 1848. Its ruins were used as a stone 
quarry, and many buildings were erected from its 


For mani/ years the 
official residence of the 
Prophet and the scene 
of viany notable events 
in Nauvoo. 

Among other buildings, the Nauvoo House was 
started in 1841, and finished to the top of the win- 
dows of the second story, A Masonic Lodge was 
organized in Nauvoo, and on January 24, 1843, the 
corner stone of a Masonic Temple was laid. This 
building was completed April 5, 1844. The lower 
two stories still stand. 

Cause of Difficulties 
The rapid growth of Nauvoo caused considerable 
jealousy in the neighboring cities and towns. The 
Saints were welcomed in 1839 and 1840, but in a 
few years the critical situation, not only in Hancock 
County but in the congressional district, became ap- 
parent. At first both parties flattered the church 
oflficers and the people of the city. This was one rea- 


son for the liberal charter, including provision not 
only for the University of Nauvoo and the legion, 
but also for a municipal court to which was granted 
the powers of habeas corpus. This last grant of 
power was by no means unique. About the same 
time the city of Alton was granted a municipal court 
with similar powers, and later the city of Chicago. 
Still in a short time this fact was made a cause for 
additional offense against Nauvoo. 

Political Troubles 

In the election of 1843, Mr. Walker, the Whig 
candidate, had a plurality outside of Nauvoo of some 
2,200 or 2,400. Nauvoo, however, cast a vote of 
over 3,000 in favor of Mr. Hoge; this despite the 
fact that Joseph Smith had voted for Mr. Walker. 
From that time on the Whig press knew no limit to 


The first home of the 
Smiths in Nauvoo — a 
house built in 1823 and 
still standing tvell 'pre- 

its rage and persistently attacked the city of Nau- 
voo and the church. When in 1844 Joseph Smith 
reluctantly permitted his name to be proposed as a 
candidate for president of the United States, the 
Democrats, finding they had nothing to gain, also 


turned against the people of Nauvoo. The primary 
basis of the trouble was undoubtedly political, ac- 
cording to Governor Ford's History of Illinois. Also 
these New Englanders of the church were abolition- 
ists. Shortly before the Nauvoo trouble, Elijah J. 
Lovejoy, an abolitionist, was killed in 1837 in Alton, 
Illinois. He was regarded as a martyr to that cause. 
As often happens in the case of a large city, 
thieves in the vicinity many times retreated towards 
the city, and Nauvoo was unjustly blamed for things 
with which her citizens were not connected. Gov- 
ernor Ford made a personal investigation and states 
that the reports were greatly exaggerated, and if 
the conditions of the community were compared to 
Saint Louis or many other large cities, the number 
found guilty would not be so great as in other large 
cities. It was in this connection that the use of the 
writ of habeas corpus had given some basis for the. 
spread of false reports. 

Masonic Lodge 

The rapid growth of the city, the large number of 
people of one belief, is again illustrated by the fact 
that the Nauvoo Masonic lodges were much larger 
than any other in the State and appeared to menace 
the control of the grand lodge of Illinois. Protests 
were therefore made, not only from near-by towns 
but as far away as the lodge of Quincy. The princi- 
pal basis, however, of the trouble, was political and 
the spread of false rumors because of prejudice 
against their religion and belief in revelation, and 
because of the growing size and power of the city. 


The favorable reports of state officials, of minis- 
ters and travelers who visited Nauvoo in the 40's, 
cause us to believe that there was no just basis for 
these rumors, and the messages and history of Gov- 
ernor Ford definitely state that the rumors were the 
result of gross exaggeration. 

Death of Joseph Smith 

The assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at 
Carthage on June 27, 1844, followed by the repeal of 
the charter of the city of Nauvoo on January 13, 
1845, led to the decline of the city. For a few years 
every effort was made to continue to erect substan- 
tial edifices, but the continued unrest in the city led 
to the agreement of many to withdraw from Nauvoo. 
A large part of these scattered throughout the 
neighboring States. A few thousand, however, un- 
der the leadership of Brigham Young and other 
members of the Twelve, proceeded in 1846 across 
Iowa to Kanesville or Council Bluffs, and thence to 

Brigham Young and Utah 
This faction led by Brigham Young was only a 
small percentage of the original church, perhaps five 
or ten per cent at the most. After their arrival at 
Salt Lake City, all who went there were rebaptized. 
New doctrines were introduced, such as Adam God 
and blood atonement, and in 1852 a purported reve- 
lation was presented to the church by Brigham 
Young, favoring plural marriage. These doctrines 
of Adam God, blood atonement, and polygamy, were 
never tenets of the original church during the life- 


time of Joseph Smith but were a departure from 
the early faith and doctrine. 

Shortly after the departure of the members of the 
church, Etienne Cabot came to Nauvoo in the spring 
of 1849 with his Icarian Community. They found a 
ready-made town with houses and tilled fields. They 
utilized buildings which were left and used stone 
from the temple to erect others, but a few years 
later this colony dissolved. 

Reorganization of the Church 

In the meantime, of the very many who followed 
no faction, a few gathered in Wisconsin in 1852 and 
started a reorganization of the church. The widow 
of Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, had remained in 
Nauvoo and left for only a short time during the 
winter of 1846-47. A few months after her return, 
Mrs. Smith was married to Major Lewis Bidamon, 
December 27, 1847. Major Bidamon completed the 
southwest corner of the Nauvoo House and erected 
an office in the northwest corner, removing the 
bricks from the other portions to complete the house, 
and selling the bricks from the north wing. 

Joseph Smith, the eldest son of Joseph Smith, con- 
tinued to reside in Nauvoo, where he secured his 
schooling. He was elected justice of the peace and 
served for seven and one half years; he also served 
for seven and one half years as school director. 
In 1860 he affiliated himself with the Reorganiza- 
tion, and at the Amboy Conference was chosen Presi- 
dent of the church. He continued to reside in 
Nauvoo, however, until 1865 or 1866, nearly twenty- 


seven years, but then removed to Piano, Illinois, 
which became headquarters of the church. 

Lamoni, Iowa 
In October, 1881, the headquarters of the church 
and Herald Publishing House were removed to 
Lamoni, Iowa. Here Joseph Smith made his home 
for over twenty-six years, until he removed to Inde- 
pendence, Missouri, in 1906, where the other princi- 
pal officers of the church shortly after were removed, 
and where he passed away in December, 1914. 

Independence, Missouri 

Frederick M. Smith was chosen as President by 
the church in April, 1915, and under his direction 
Independence, Missouri, was formally made the 
headquarters of the church by the conference of 
1920, recognizing what was already an accomplished 
fact. The headquarters of the church are now fully 
established in Independence, Missouri, where all of 
the principal offices of the church are located. 

Lamoni, Iowa, continues as the place second in 
importance, with Graceland College and an Old 
Folks' Home. 

From the first, the Reorganized Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter Day Saints has denounced polygamy 
and the other doctrines added by the church of 
Utah. They have also emphasized, and still do, that 
the original church never accepted nor had anything 
to do with these doctrines. The Reorganized Church 
was held the lawful successor or the continuation of 
the original church by Judge L. S. Sherman in the 
Kirtland Temple Suit, in the Court of Common Pleas, 
Lake County, Ohio, in 1880. 


A Court Decision 

Then Judge John F. Philips, of the United States 
Circuit Court for Western Division of the Western 
District of Missouri, in 1894, in a thoroughly con- 
tested action, also held that the Reorganized Church 
was the lawful successor of the original church 
founded in 1830. Also that these added doctrines of 
polygamy and the like did not belong to the original 
church. This was requisite in a suit to determine the 
title to the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri. 
(See decision of John F. Philips, Judge, pp. 33-45.) 

The United States Circuit Court of Appeal modi- 
fied this decision, so far as it affected possession 
of the lot, on the grounds of adverse possession and 
laches. The important questions of succession and 
responsibility for these objectionable doctrines were 
not considered or modified. 

Today in Nauvoo 

During the summer over two thousand visitors, 
many of whom are tourists, some from various parts 
of the United States including Maine and Califor- 
nia, visit Nauvoo. The pastor of the local congrega- 
tion is the caretaker of the church property and con- 
ducts visitors to the points of historical interest. 

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter 
Day Saints still owns several of the old landmarks, 
including the Old Homestead, the Mansion House, 
and the Nauvoo House. They have a fine brick 
church and a growing congregation. A reunion is 
held here each year which is largely attended, not 
only by those in the city but by those of the church 
who come from distant parts. 

It is still a place they love, though its glory is now 
of the past. 16 

Printed in .U. S. A. 



EDWARDSVILLE, fL 62026 -t©63 

JUL 1 6 1999 

811 01131 1704